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Boys basketball: Class A’s third-ranked SWC eludes determined Trojans

BRIAN KORTHALS/DAILY GLOBE Southwest Christian senior Leighton Sampson puts in an inside basket during Saturday night’s high school boys basketball game in Worthington. 1 / 2
BRIAN KORTHALS/DAILY GLOBE Worthington’s Jake Weg lays in two points during Saturday’s game at WHS.2 / 2

WORTHINGTON — In essentially two years of high school boys basketball, Leighton Sampson has surpassed 1,000 career points and, when the times called for it, demonstrated an ability to carry the Southwest Christian Eagles on his wide shoulders.

When the host Worthington Trojans fought back valiantly from a huge first half deficit Saturday night to put the Eagles’ victory in doubt, head coach Jamie Pap knew who he had to turn to.


“I just told them we gotta take care of the basketball. Then we gotta find Sampson underneath,” said Pap following Southwest’s 79-68 triumph.

The Eagles’ impressive recovery, after Worthington whittled their lead down to five points midway through the second half, was due to more than their versatile 6-5 senior center. But for Southwest Christian, Sampson is like the big bolt that holds the wheel together. After scoring 20 points in the first half, he finished with 28, made some big rebounds and some big blocks. He had 10 blocks in the game, in fact.

Pap says Sampson, who wasn’t called upon much to score during his sophomore season, isn’t just very good, he’s also very humble. And sure enough, after the game Sampson thought first of his teammates.

“My teammates help me a lot in practice,” he said. “We always go hard in practice. It makes for a good work ethic for us as a team.”

Southwest Christian scored the first 10 points of Saturday’s game and led 47-35 at halftime. But the Trojans fought hard in the second half, pounding the boards and challenging the Eagles on both ends of the floor like they hadn’t done in the opening minutes. The Trojans narrowed the margin to within five points, 51-46, with about 12 minutes to go on a Jessie Guerra steal and put-back by Will Dudley off an offensive rebound. From there, the Eagles were forced to scramble to keep the home team at bay.

A Luke Nibbelink three-point shot with three and a half minutes remaining gave Southwest a 69-58 lead. Worthington refused to quit, and at 1:52 Spencer Grafing’s reverse layup made it 71-64. At 1:27 Sampson was called for goaltending on a Grafing shot, and the score was 71-66. The Eagles held, however, with Nibbelink making a string of free throws near the end.

Southwest Christian’s outstanding long-range shooter, Nate Pfeifle, helped the Eagles’ cause with 18 points, including four three-point shots. Nibbelink finished with 15 points.

Worthington senior guard Marcus Potter, always a fearless offensive threat, led his team with 19 points. Grafing had 16 and Dudley 10.

Dudley and Carter Lindner had nine rebounds apiece. Guerra had five steals while Dudley and Will Mulder had four each. Dudley also had three assists.

Worthington fans got one victory Saturday night, as its B squad team edged the Eagles 50-45. But the Southwest Christian varsity, the defending Class A state champion, moves to 18-2. Worthington is 7-11.

“The kids worked hard. It’s shown how we’ve grown. We battled back. We gave ourselves an opportunity,” said first-year WHS head coach Jared Keaveny.

But defensive lapses — like those that occurred in the first half — are still keeping the Trojans from getting over the hump.

“We showed in the second half what we can do with our defense, when we get into it,” Keaveny said.

Pap was impressed with both teams.

“It’s always been a big rivalry. The kids played hard against each other the whole way,” he said, admitting his own squad’s “mental breakdown” in the second half.

Still, the victory amounted to a significant one in the coach’s mind.

“It’s a good game for us, it gets us tournament-ready on a tournament floor,” Pap said. “I think it was huge for us to withstand somebody’s run back at us.”

After the dust settled, Sampson said somebody told him he had 10 blocked shots. He believes it’s the most he’s gotten in any one game this year.

“It would have been 11, because I don’t think that was the right call on my goaltending,” he said.

But he was smiling when he said it. Winning will do that.

Southwest Christian 47 78

Worthington 35 68

SOUTHWEST CHRISTIAN (3FG-2FG-FT-TP) — Huisken 1-0-1-4, Robinson 2-1-0-8, Pfeifle 4-2-2-18, Nibbelink 1-3-8-15, DeBoer 0-1-2-4, Top 0-0-0-0, Sampson 1-10-5-28. Totals 9-17-18-78.

WORTHINGTON (3FG-2FG-FT-TP) — Dudley 0-3-4-10, Grafing 2-5-0-16, Potter 0-6-7-19, Guerra 0-0-0-0, Mulder 1-2-0-7, Wolyniec 0-2-0-4, Gray 0-0-0-0, Miller 0-0-0-0, Lindner 0-3-2-8, Weg 0-2-0-4. Totals 3-21-13-68.

Doug Wolter

Doug Wolter is the Daily Globe sports editor. He served as sports reporter, then sports editor, news editor and finally managing editor at the Daily Globe for 22 years before leaving for seven years to work as night news editor at the Mankato Free Press in Mankato. Doug now lives in Worthington with his wife, Sandy. They have three children and seven grandchildren. Doug, retired after a lengthy career in fast-pitch softball, enjoys reading, strumming his acoustic guitar and hanging around his grandchildren. He also writes books on fiction. Two of his stories, "The Genuine One" and "The Old Man in Section 129" have been distributed through a national publisher.

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